Blind Paralympic cyclist Shawn Cheshire, 43, recently faced her biggest challenge — a rim-to-rim hike through the Grand Canyon.
Cheshire crossed 68 kilometers of steep and uneven terrain, hiking through the night and finishing in 24 hours and 15 minutes — believed to be a record by a blind hiker.
“The last couple of years, I've been on this desperate purpose of grasping as much independence as possible," Cheshire said. "And so for me, being able to walk in the Grand Canyon like that, that’s freedom.”
Cheshire lost her sight after an accident nine years ago and turned to athletics.
“I was in a really dark place and hated being blind.” But she said sports and physical challenges gave her “another opportunity at living.” She competed in the Paralympics in Rio in 2016 and hopes to compete in Tokyo in 2020.
In the meantime, Cheshire was determined to complete this challenging hike.
“I had a huge ball of emotion welled up in my chest — like I cannot believe we just did that — and just (felt) gratitude,” she said.
She finished the challenging hike on Oct. 8. Three friends helped her complete the trek, serving as guides and warning of obstacles as they worked to set a record.
“We literally smashed it,” recalled guide Sara Schulting-Kranz, “including going up the north rim and down the north rim, the entire thing. Every trail that we were on, I’ve never actually gone that fast on,” she said.
It is believed that the previous record by a blind hiker was set in 2014 at 28 hours. Cheshire beat that mark by nearly four hours.
It was an exercise in teamwork. Cheshire and her guides walked several paces apart. She listened for warnings of obstacles from her teammates and monitored the bell that the lead hiker wore, which sounded as they walked. She used hiking poles for balance.
It was a journey of discovery for the four-person crew.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself,” said Scott Drum, a friend of Cheshire’s and a guide on the trek. “I learned a lot more about the canyon,” he added.
For Cheshire, it was a major accomplishment on the road to others. In addition to cycling and hiking, she runs, skis and rock climbs.
“I’d like to figure out everything a blind woman has never done, and I would like to do that.”